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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

U.S. reassures, sounds alarm

Drug czar Walters tells Mexico aid is coming and voices concern on cross-border violence.

October 18, 2008|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Amid another round of violence that claimed more than 20 lives, a top U.S. drug official Friday sounded an alarm over the number of killings and kidnappings that spill into the southern United States from Mexico.

Mexican authorities and reports from around the country said at least 23 people were killed late Thursday and on Friday, including three police officers who died in a gun battle in the state of Jalisco. In the border state of Chihuahua, six men were lined up against a wall at a gymnasium and shot to death.

U.S. drug czar John P. Walters, in Mexico City to reassure officials that aid to fight drug gangs is in the pipeline, said traffickers resort to "fear and horror" in their campaign to take over government institutions but will ultimately fail.

"It's not just about drugs," Walters told a news conference. "It's about kidnapping and murder. It's about extortion . . . and suborning government officials."

Although Mexican society suffers the brunt of the violence, Walters said, drug gangs and their hit men cross the border with relative ease to settle scores and carry out slayings in the U.S.

"These groups do not respect the border," said Walters, who is head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

More than 3,500 people have been killed in Mexico in warfare that has raged since President Felipe Calderon began deploying 40,000 army troops nearly two years ago to crack down on the most powerful drug networks.

Despite the intensifying bloodshed, Walters praised Calderon's efforts.

Ultimately, he said, the drug lords will face a stark choice: "They surrender, or they die."

Walters reiterated Washington's intention to begin releasing parts of a $400-million package of aid and training under the so-called Merida Initiative approved by Congress in June. In addition to countering the violence, the package targets money laundering and gun smuggling, illicit activities sustaining the largest cartels.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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